I Am Duran: The Autobiography of Roberto Duran

roberto duranDate Finished: May 2018
Did I Like It? 4/10

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If you want a book of contradictions, this is the book for you. Duran says he is loyal, but cheats on his wife? Will do anything for his people yet wears all the unnecessary bling? At one point he says:

“It happens to all athletes. You can be great for five, six, seven, ten years –and then you fall.”

That’s not true, right? Anyway, Duran’s ego is massive and this book didn’t sit well with me. He is a winner, no doubt about that, but a real champion doesn’t behave the way he does.

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What I Highlighted:

If it had been anyone else, the doctor said, I would have stayed dead. But my good health and physical strength meant I didn’t die, thank God.

My strategy was very simple. In my personal life I am not an animal, but in the ring there was an animal inside me. Sometimes it roared the moment the first bell rang. Sometimes it sprang out later in the fight. But I could always feel it there, driving me and pushing me forward. It’s what made me win, what made me enjoy fighting. The worst thing you could do with me was be scared, because I’d smell that fear.

So I drink a lot sometimes –so what? Life’s meant to be enjoyed, and mine’s been a party. ‘La jodienda,’ Latin people call it. Boxing is part of my life, but so are my family and friends. It’s tough to keep it all in focus all the time from when you’re a pelao, a kid, to when you’re a man touching fifty who’s still fighting for his family, for his pride, for all those fans –for the joy of being respected by the people he cares about.

You’ll always find me in a good mood. And if I do get in a bad mood, I’ll snap out of it in an instant.

When you’re a world champion and have achieved all you want, it’s hard to keep engaged.

I loved to box, but I also loved the other things in life and I was never going to deny myself. It drove my trainers and managers crazy. But they weren’t the ones out there busting their ass in the gym and winning all those fights.

People rate me as the greatest lightweight of all time. And why not? I think I am. ‘There is only one legend,’ as I’ve often said, ‘and that’s me.’

I would do anything to try and get money for my family, even though I was only a child.

I did everything I could to help my mother, because she was looking after eight children, by several different fathers.

As I watched the trainer put the headgear on my brother, then the protective cup, I was spellbound. I wanted that. When Toti had finished sparring I asked him how I could get all that stuff. ‘Become a boxer.’ So that’s what I did.

I actually lost my first three amateur fights.

Plomo taught me some things, but when you are born to box you work things out yourself, and that’s what I did. But I would stay with Plomo until his death.

I learned ring strategy, and I taught myself how to cut off the ring. I learned those skills by myself –they’re not the kind of things someone can pass on to you.

I made sure I always brought something home for my brothers, my sisters and my mother. I still do, because, whatever happens, my family comes before everything.

I took on board what he was saying because I knew I couldn’t become champion without him on my side. He had money –he was a millionaire –and I knew he’d do everything in his power to help me become champion of the world. He believed in me, and I believed in him.

The next day people kept asking me to tell them the whole story, which was pretty cool, and that’s when I knew that the legend of Roberto Durán had been born.

Of course I had aspirations of becoming a champion. Doesn’t every fighter? I wasn’t dreaming big, but I wanted to win a championship so I could buy my mother a house and get her out of that shithole. That was it, nothing else. After that I was going to retire.

I had no interest in learning English. All I know in English is some street slang I’ve picked up over the years, and even now I can’t write it very well. The same goes for reading, which I’m not very good at either, just as I was never interested in business. I was a fighter: I was paid to fight. That’s who I was and what I did.

Every day I trained harder and harder. I wanted to leave my mark, and I wanted to put Panama on the map.

I thought I knew it all in boxing, but now these guys taught me a lot of tricks I went on to use in the ring.

But I was Durán: I’d come through hell to get here –I could deal with anything.

I was pissed that I lost. I got a lot more pissed off when the Panamanian press turned on me for the first time in my career, questioning whether I’d trained properly and suggesting that I partied too much.

The bond between us lasted for the rest of our lives. Through good times and bad, he never deserted me. I can’t say that about everyone.

My love of boxing was second only to my other passion –music.

The truth was, the other reason I started to fight in higher weight classifications was because I needed the money to take care of my family, and the heavier divisions paid more.

I wasn’t going to back down for anyone –I didn’t care how important they were.

But by then he knew and I knew that people had come to see Roberto Durán, not Muhammad Ali.

What did I care? I wasn’t going to train tomorrow, or the next day. I was now the best pound-per-pound fighter in the world.

I had a reputation for enjoying the party scene which I didn’t mind at all, but it did mean that Freddie Brown had to get to work on me before every fight.

The problem was I got bored with the lack of real competition.

I loved to eat, I liked to drink beer, and I loved Coca-Cola. When I trained for a fight, I would sit with Fula and the rest of my family and I wouldn’t be able to eat what they ate…Of course it would have been easier just to stick to a disciplined diet, but I couldn’t help myself.

It was such a pain in the ass to make weight. Besides, I was getting bored with the division: I’d successfully defended my title twelve times, and I no longer felt challenged. I knew there were bigger guys out there, and that meant more money.

They say hands are quicker than eyes, so I would work on strengthening my eyes to be just as quick.

Whatever was I going to do next? I knew he could box, so if I was going to win I’d have to get inside his head and break him down mentally. We were going to fight on my terms, and that meant a street fight.

It was the greatest victory of my career to date. I’d worked my ass off, and now I was on top of the world and ready to party. But I wasn’t going to do it alone. I wanted people to share in my success, in the glory of Panama.

I hung out with my lowlife friends who never had any money, as well as the millionaires.

When you’re a long way from home it’s nice to have family around you to remind you where you’ve come from.

I was in love with Panama, and Panama was in love with me. I was Panama’s hero, and I was happy to play that role. Why not? I deserved it.

I never said ‘No más’. This is the truth. I just turned my back and motioned to the referee that I didn’t want to continue.

I knew I was a thousand times the better man, that if I’d trained properly, if I hadn’t had those two steaks, I would have had him all over again. I didn’t have to respect him.

I’m a proud man, but also an impulsive one. I’d let my emotions get the better of me. I didn’t know the world would react the way it did, and I didn’t know I would get treated like shit for so long. I didn’t know it would haunt me for the rest of my life. But it happened. I have no regrets.

That’s my legacy, just as much as what happened that night. I made an impulsive decision, and it became infamous in boxing history, with very bad consequences for me. But I couldn’t take it back, and I’m not apologizing.

Those first months after the fight were some of the worst of my life. I still had the people who mattered to me –my wife, my kids, my family and friends –but the Durán name was no longer gold in Panama.

I was treating it like my first fight. I had to win: it was as simple as that.

I’m a proud man, and I was suffering inside. I had to take care of my family, and boxing was the only way I knew.

For the first time in a long time I was enjoying boxing.

I was back, but it made me laugh, as all the people who’d doubted me were back too, sucking up to me again.

Right until the day we left for Atlantic City I kept running with those boots on, and I’d run so much around that park I’d worn the grass out to leave a track

When I was inspired by my country, you could not beat me. You had to kill me.

I was on top again, and all the manzanillos were tripping over one another trying to become my favourite.

But I still kept true to myself: beneath all the craziness that went on in my life since I’d become famous, I was really the same as I always had been.

I like to make people happy, and I’d rather have friends than enemies.

Part of me couldn’t believe this was what my boxing career had come to: getting into the ring to pay for some laundry machines.

What he hadn’t realized until too late was that people like me, who had nothing to lose, who just wanted to survive, were the hardest to beat.

And you don’t know what that experience is until you’ve been there yourself. No one can teach it to you, and you can’t train for it, but after your fists it’s the most powerful weapon in the ring.

I was a great boxer, but I was also very good at sneaking stuff I wanted and hiding it away. I couldn’t help myself.

I was forty-five, but so what? I was passing all the tests: not only did I have the body of a young man, one of the doctors told me before the fight, I also had a very thick skull, so there was no way he could stop me from fighting.

The announcer said I was tarnishing my memories and legacy by carrying on fighting. What was that all about, when I was in such good shape? And who was he to lay down the law on what I did for a living? I fight. End of story.